Closer to Home
I've been on a Breaking Bad kick as of late, rewatching the previous season on Net Flix and wetting my appetite for the final eight episodes, set to begin this Sunday on AMC, by watching teaser videos on You Tube. And then there's the fact that we just had DirecTV installed at our house, so we can watch the last season in real-time, rather than after-the-fact through another streaming service like Net Flix or Hulu. This after spending the last 20 years in our home, bragging to people about how we're too snooty and sophisticated to have cable TV or satellite, living with broadcast TV via a roof-mounted yagi antenna, feeding our cultural cravings via PBS.
It's easy to understand, once you realize that I'm a native of Walter White's hometown of Albuquerque. This week's New Yorker magazine has a good article about it, in fact.
Almost every week, I take my car down to the Octopus Car Wash, on Snowheights Circle and Menaul, to get the dust, bird droppings and tree sap washed off. I've gone there for years, one of my brothers worked there, years ago, and it's the setting for the fictional car wash on Breaking Bad that's owned by Walter and Skyler White, used to launder their drug money.
Across the street from the Octopus is a little strip mall that's been in place since the very early 1960s, when my Dad, burdened by a family of three young boys and an ailing wife, moved into the neighborhood and we began a decades-long ritual of eating at the Taco Sal cafe almost every weekend. The original owner, Sally Gabaldon, would greet every patron with a resounding "Hello, doll!" It's where I learned, as a young toe-headed kid, to eat steaming hot bowls of green chile stew, or platters overloaded with red chile-soaked enchiladas and baskets of fresh, hot sopapillas.
Taco Sal is still in the same strip mall, though ran by different owners than when I was young, and has been used on several occasions as a setting for scenes in Breaking Bad. Being directly across the street from the car wash makes for a convenience in the film production business that the average viewer might not appreciate.
At the very east end of the same strip mall is where Brito's barber shop used to be, where we'd go for our haircuts. It's also the setting of the TV Repair Shop that I used to work at, under a different management. The current owner, who we nicknamed Radio Shack Jack, has been hanging on through the decline of the consumer electronics industry and the rise of cheap, throwaway electronics from Asia. I drop by, once in a while, to chat and rub elbows and reminisce over the "good old days."
About a mile north of the Octopus Car Wash and Taco Sals is a neighborhood where the fictional family home of Breaking Bad's White family is located. An old family friend lived on the same street, and he'd inform us whenever they were filming the show. He passed away of liver cancer this year, leaving a wife behind who's now faced with the challenges of widowhood. Sometimes true life can be as cruel as fiction.
Across various locations in Albuquerque you can find similar stories, of places frequented by the locals that were used as settings in the critically aclaimed TV series. It's a game, of sorts, to watch each episode and try to recognize as many places as possible, what streets they're driving on, what buildings they're filming adjacent to, deconstructing the series geographically.
The New Yorker magazine article paints a realistic portrait of Albuquerque as a town riddled with anachronism, simultaneously friendly and frighteningly violent, virtual third-world, drug gang-infested hovels in close proximity with immaculately manicured middle class ranch home lawns of suburbia, sometimes within blocks of one other. It's the kind of place where the landscape is so vast that distances become telescoped in perspective, cultures overlapping in circles of influence, surrounded by emptiness that reaches to the horizon, and beyond.
I used to live in the southeast part of town, nicknamed the "Combat Zone" by locals, but relabeled, through political correctness, as The International District by the city government. It's a place you'd still want to avoid on a Friday or Saturday night, although I used to live directly next door to the Fair-N-Square market, mentioned in the New Yorker article as the site of a needle exchange program. Back then, we used to go there to buy cheap burritos and rotisserie chicken, while avoiding the advances of the crack-whores (or undercover cops) at the adjacent bus stop.
We, my wife and I, as well as many fans of the show, will be enjoying these last eight episodes in the series, wondering how it's all going to end, speculating on the clues given up in last season's episodes, wondering if Walter White - Heisenberg - will get his just deserts, or if justice will once again be thwarted, perhaps even secretly rooting for this villianous protagonist who started off as such a meek and milktoast wallflower.
Now, the production of the series has ended and the actors and film crews of Breaking Bad have moved on to bigger and better things, perhaps, and little old Albuquerque will have to live with its legacy of a violent frontier town, on the interstitial between two worlds, propped up by its reputation on the fictional series that's closer to home than one might otherwise think.